How To Improve Your Leadership Under Pressure

Have you ever lost your cool in way that had negative consequences? Have you ever read/misread a comment from a subordinate and completely over-reacted in your immediate response? Have you ever sent and email meticulously expressing your indignation in response to a co-workers email or actions only to regret it later? I have. In most cases, your response has a negative impact on the individual and, by association, your team. Your effectiveness and reputation as a leader is determined by how you perform under pressure. The Greek philosopher Epicurus said, “Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests.” That reputation will either magnify or diminish the productivity of your team.

Let me give you a painful personal experience. Several years ago, I was working for a leadership development company. There had been several major leadership changes since I had joined the company. At the time, I was meeting with the third CEO the company had employed in the 4 years I’d been there. The company was struggling during the last great recession, like many companies. I had been asked to help increase sales. My new title, which was company specific, meant nothing to potential clients.

To help our business growth, the CEO asked if I would change it and use the title of Associate Vice President. I had not sought the change, but felt it would help develop new business. Shortly after this meeting, the CEO was fired. We operated for several months after that with no CEO. One day, I was working in my office and I heard our senior HR Director, who had been with the company for almost 20 years, talking to employees outside my office. “Did you hear that Spencer changed his title to assistant Vice President? Can you believe it?!” This went on for a few minutes and she came into my office and began to express her displeasure with what she thought to be a self-serving power grab on my part. She said, “Why did you change your title to Assistant Vice President, are you ashamed of the other title?” I said the new title was actually Associate Vice President and I was not ashamed of the old title. I was doing my best to stay calm.

She continued, “Why don’t you just call yourself President, we don’t have one of those?” She finally left my office and I was doing my best to not get fully hijacked and angry. As she left my office, she began calling out to other sales people on the sales floor. “HEY DAVE, WHAT DO YOU WANT YOUR TITLE TO BE?” By this time, I had left my desk and was standing in the doorway of my office watching this happen. Finally, I had had enough! Her behavior was absolutely inappropriate. I felt I HAD to address the injustice. I walked up to her and we began to argue. I knew she was a confident tough woman with many years of experience and not intimidated. I felt justified in addressing the situation directly and powerfully!

Her behavior, however inappropriate, did not justify my confronting her on the sales floor where several other employees looked on in horror. We were supposed to be two examples of leadership, motivation and enthusiasm. What they got instead was discomfort and a loss of respect for both of us.

Perhaps you are reading this and thinking of all the ways you would have responded more appropriately. When I was no longer in the frustrating moment, and thinking clearly, I too could think of so many better responses. The key is to be able to do this when you are in in the foxholes and trenches of daily business.

Think of challenges you currently face. Maybe the challenges are recurring. The way you respond to things that happen determines your outcomes. When you are under pressure your ability to think clearly is impaired. There are ways to manage this. Under these conditions, you may not be getting the results you intend. In these situations, different leaders may react differently causing different challenges. The following are some examples of challenging behaviors under pressure:

  1. Some leaders may intimidate others because of their intensity. Their demanding nature can divide people and teams. Inflexible and controlling behavior can lead to unrealistic expectations. These leaders can be overly sensitive to being disrespected or embarrassed. They constantly think about what they want to say next, instead of truly listening.
  2. Some leaders may find difficulty focusing under pressure. They may have a compulsive need to be heard and popular, basing decisions on personal benefit, rather than what is expedient. This is fueled by a fear of embarrassment or rejection, which is exaggerated under pressure.
  3. Other leaders may avoid conflict. They sometimes procrastinate managing and/or terminating difficult relationships or making difficult decisions. Their indecision causes pain for the whole team.
  4. Another leader may get paralyzed by perfectionism, or be overly critical. They may fear being caught without the answer, focusing on what can go wrong.

These are just a few examples of your behavioral blind spots.

Scholars of leadership studies and organizational consultants, Warren Bennis and Robert J. Thomas have been researching what makes an effective leader. They have concluded, “…the skills required to conquer adversity and emerge stronger and more committed than ever are the same ones that make for extraordinary leaders.” (The Crucibles of Leadership, Harvard Business Review, September, 2002)

Here are some things, which can help you avoid my earlier mistakes and become a stronger more effective leader:

When you find yourself in moments of tension, you may experience an amygdala hijack, which I won’t explain in detail here. In short, fight or flight takes over and your ability to reason is seriously impaired. Your behavior and decisions are controlled by your limbic system (emotions), instead of your neo-cortex (logic). This is why we can repeat the same poor behavior again, and again. Here are a few suggestions to regain control of your neo-cortex and overcome your challenging behavior:

  1. Interrupt your pattern:

    Interrupt your episode. Break your typical pattern. Focus on something else or walk away. Walking away is meant to be a temporary solution. Some people are actually good at walking away; the problem is they don’t address the issue. When you walk away, plan a time to reconvene with the person or people you were meeting with to address the situation more powerfully and effectively. Think of a child having a temper tantrum. Perhaps you asked your small child to get dressed and they start kicking and screaming. Interrupt that pattern by saying something like “What is your favorite flavor of ice-cream?” Or, “Where did you put your favorite toy?” This will interrupt their episode and function to reengage the logic center of their brain. The same can work for you. Find a way to interrupt yourself. Just getting up and moving away can help. If you are having difficulty staying in control of your emotions, ask if you can get back together in a couple of hours or the next day.

  1. Oxygenate:

    Just breathe, when you are frustrated or angry, notice you are probably not breathing. Oxygen breaks down the hormones, which are released when you are frustrated, angry or upset such as adrenaline, and the stress hormone cortisol. Learn how to diaphragmatically breathe. Slow down and breathe deeply. It takes 3-4 hours to completely clear these hormones from your system. As a leader, you don’t have the luxury of this recovery time. When you breathe deeply, you will interrupt your pattern, and you can help reduce the hormones from your bloodstream in 15-20 minutes. Cortisol increases your heart rate and hardens arteries. If allowed to persist, it can cause hypertension and heart disease and a suppressed immune system. It also causes weight gain and belly fat. Think of how often in a day you may be getting frustrated angry or upset. In addition to impairing your ability to lead effectively and make good decisions, you are negatively impacting your health, and hurting your team/effectiveness. Learn to recognize when you are not breathing and breathe deeply and slowly.

  1. Strengthen feelings of gratitude:

    This is a step that you may consider touchy feely, however, it can have a powerfully positive impact. You could be may be grateful for the birth of a child, an enduring relationship, or help you received during a difficult time, etc. Gratitude is a very strong emotion and can counter negative feelings and emotions. However, you need to identify something you are so grateful for that you will feel a change of emotion immediately. If it is not working, you need to identify a more powerful event.

    Let me share my gratitude story: When I was 18, my mother was diagnosed with bone cancer. This was a follow-up to breast cancer she had ten years earlier. This time the doctors gave her six months to live. She was single, a mother of four, and a schoolteacher. When she gathered the family to share the news, she declared that we would live as normally as we could. In a few months, when I turned 19, we were planning for me to leave and serve an 18-month mission that was an important part of my faith. When I left, it was very difficult, I did not know if I would see my mother again. I was called to serve in Rome, Italy. Sharing my faith with the good people of Italy was not easy. I would write to my mother and complain how hard it was. She encouraged me to love the people more. In her letters to me, she never complained of her pain. She was always encouraging.

    Towards the end of my mission, my mother was still living. However, she took a turn for the worse and I was called home to help. At twenty years of age, I was assigned to be the executor of my mother’s estate. I came home on a Thursday and doctors thought she would not survive the weekend. She turned out to live another six months. This was a tender mercy. I cannot think about these experiences without incredible gratitude. My feelings of gratitude cause my feelings of frustration and anger instantly dissipate. The key is to practice gratitude daily so, it can be easily retrieved in moments of tension.

  1. Seek information:

    When you feel hijacked, learn to ask open-ended questions to learn more about the situation. Here are a few examples: “Help me understand….”, “What is the source, or cause of…”, “How can we more effectively….”, “What are the potential outcomes of….”. When you ask open-ended questions, you are engaging the logic center of your brain. This helps to interrupt patterned responses (yours and others) to improve your outcomes.

  2. Understand your blind spots:

    As a leader, you must take the time to understand your behavioral tendencies. I am sure you have had behavioral surveys and 360 reviews in your career. What did you do with the information? Maybe you were impressed with the accuracy, laughed, and blithely filed the report away with the rest of your behavioral assessments. You must take the time to understand what to do with the information. Maximize your strengths and learn what to do about the behavior, which is holding you, back. If you have read any of my other articles about emotional intelligence, I have recommended getting a behavioral survey. Take it to the next step. Work with a certified professional or coach to help you understand the ramifications of your behavior.

If your behavior as a leader has had an impact you did not intend like I have, there is hope. Learning how to be a more effective leader in moments of tension takes some work and practice. Practice the behaviors and responses you desire when you are calm. Do not get discouraged if you do not respond the way you practiced. Keep working at it. The benefits to your reputation as a leader are unbelievable. You will be creating an environment, and culture, where your team, your employees and your direct reports will thrive and be more productive. Your heart will also thank you.

Let us help you improve your emotional intelligence and your leadership under pressure. Click here to take our leadership and communciation behavioral assessment and a schedule a free analysis.

For more information on the subject you consider the following articles: What Is Innattentional Blindness Costing You?; One Reason We Struggle With Emotional Intelligence…; How Asking Questions Strengthens Your Team; Cure For The CEO Disease

The author, Spencer Horn is the President of Spencer Horn Solutions, LLC.

What Is Innattentional Blindness Costing You?

Have you ever gone to a movie when the theater was packed and you scanned the theater for open seats? You finally find them and take your seats. After the movie, you run into some friends who happened to be at the same show. They said they had two seats next to them and were waving at you when you came in, but you did not seem them? Or perhaps you were watching your favorite sports team on TV and you did not notice your significant other asking for your help. Have you ever been so focused on something that you missed what was going on around you?

This phenomenon is called innattentional blindness, and was first discovered by Ulric Niesser, known as the “father of cognitive psychology”, at Cornell University in the 1970’s. It is also known as perceptual blindness and occurs when an individual fails to perceive or recognize an unplanned stimulus clearly in their field of vision. When we are focused on something specific, it is possible to miss other plainly visible details that may appear.

Niesser’s experiments gained interest and popularity in the following decades. Harvard Psychologists, Daniel J. Simons and Christopher F. Chabris tested his experiments further. Their findings are reported in their article, Gorillas in our midst: sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events. The research points out we are missing a great deal of what is happening all around us. They have since written a book about their findings, The Invisible Gorilla.

When I first saw the monkey business video, I was focusing on a specific task and I completely missed the man in gorilla suit who appeared on the screen for a full 9 seconds and pounded his chest. I was happy to learn that I am not the only blind casualty of this psychology experiment. About 50% of people, under the same conditions, do not see the gorilla. So what does this have to do with you and I? This implies, that to our detriment, we miss a great deal of what goes on around us. I work with many hard charging, results oriented, get it done now, professionals. These are certainly good qualities, but they come with cost, if we are not careful. Just as with the above example; of someone not noticing their partner while watching a sporting event, it is possible for us to not see how we are impacting important people, in our business, by our narrow focus.

As a CEO, I remember I was so focused on accomplishing a particular task, that I gave my administrative assistant some assignments, almost unconsciously. I failed to notice she was under tremendous stress because we had multiple clients in the office, she was supporting. At the end of the day, I could see more clearly and recognized that I had created a great deal of stress for my good employee. She was not about to tell me no for several reasons: My position power as CEO made it hard for her to say something like, “now is not a good time” or “can I complete these tomorrow?” Additionally, she was generally conflict avoidant, a behavior I knew to be a part of her behavioral traits and personality profile.

At the end of the day, I apologized to her because I wanted her to be a happy engaged employee. I did not WANT to put her under unnecessary stress. She was working hard and helping our customers. What I asked for was important, but it surely could have waited for a day. I was just hyper focused on getting things done; I did not notice the impact of my focus. The apology was accepted, yet how often do we repeat the same behavior. What happens to our team member’s engagement when the leaders poor behavior is repeated again and again? Employees become disengaged. They lose trust in leadership and the culture is weakened.

As leaders, we have a responsibility to get the job done (results). However, we can never get everything we need done alone. We must enlist the help of our team. We get so much more done when we have a team that is engaged and motivated. Leaders who have developed relationships of trust most easily achieve this condition. To get our desired results, we must also pay attention to relationships. Some leaders seem to have a natural talent for this. Some leaders can spend too much time on relationships, sometimes at the expense of results. The best leaders learn how to effectively balance tasks and relationships.

Let me give a personal example of balancing task and relationship. I have five children and I want a great relationship with each of my children. I also enjoy having a clean house and order especially when I come home after a long day at work. It just so happens, that some of my kids come home from school and immediately take off their shoes and socks. They just leave them where they are, which is usually on the family room floor. If I am just focused on the task when I come home, I see the socks and the first thing I say to my son, “why are your shoes and socks on the floor again?! Go put them away!” He gets up after rolling his eyes and takes his things stomping out of the room. When he returns, I want now focus on the relationship. I ask, “How was your day? How did your math test go?” My efforts at relationship building are not well received. My son is no mood to talk to me now.

Let me change the scenario. I come home tired, and I notice the socks and shoes on the floor. Instead of immediately focusing on the task of creating order, and a clean house, I focus on the relationship I want with my son. I ask him about his day and math test. I ask him how volleyball practice went and if the girl he asked to the prom responded to his proposal. We have a great conversation. I then turn my attention to the socks and shoes and say, “where are those supposed to be?” he says, “Away.” I say, “go take care of that please.” In this scenario, the outcome is so much greater. I have strengthened the relationship and improved household order. You can have both, and in the long run, balancing both is so much more effective and rewarding.

If you are like me, and get too focused on “task”, there is hope. You can improve your awareness and perceptional limitations. It takes a desire to improve your self-awareness. Improving your emotional intelligence will be a great help. Some of the suggestions I have given in other articles about emotional intelligence will apply here and some are unique. (See links at the end of the article.)

5 Suggestions To Improve Your Vision:

  1. Think about the end result:

    Sometimes in our rush to get things done, we may not think about the consequences of our actions and behavior. Slow down a little and think about the outcomes. We may still be innattentionally blind to some of the outcomes even when we slow down, however, this practice will help us to improve more and more over time.

  2. Change your focus:

    I find that if I am watching TV and focused on a sporting event and my wife talks to me, I may not hear her. I have learned to stop, disengage in what I am doing, and focus on her. The benefits of this to my relationship should be obvious.

  1. Schedule time to focus:

    As a busy executive, I am often focused on important tasks. If you are like me, you get many interruptions throughout your day. People constantly stop by my office with “got a minute?” situations. Several problems arise in these situations. Possibly, you ignore them because you are so focused, and they leave disappointed. Or you keep doing what you are doing and pay only partial attention to what is needed. You miss important details and send a message the employees concerns and the employee is not important. Maybe, you continually stop what you are doing, to focus on the needs of your employees, because you value the relationship. This can cause your own tasks to suffer.

    A better option is to let your team member know they are important. Tell them you want to give them the time they deserve, however, right now is not a good time, unless it is an emergency. You schedule time when you can give your complete attention to their concerns. You can effectively balance task and relationship.

  2. Identify your blind spots:

    Become aware of when you have blind spots. When you are talking on your cell phone, watching TV, in a stressful situation, giving a presentation, managing a project, etc. Our behavior in these situations is often predictable and tied to our preferred behavioral traits. Knowing your behavioral trait patterns will help you identify your blind spots. Use a behavioral assessment you trust and work with a trusted advisor to help you understand the implications of your behavior traits.

  3. Be vulnerable:

    Give others permission to give you feedback on what you may be missing. In order to see what we are missing, it is helpful to understand situations where this occurs. This help will come to you when you encourage feedback and avoid being defensive. That takes admitting you may occasionally miss things and it requires a willingness to improve.

The cost of not improving your vision is great. When you are so focused on the task, much is missed. We can miss changes in competitive landscape. Changes in market conditions. We can miss changes in our employee’s engagement. We miss opportunities to strengthen and improve important relationships with our team, clients, family, and friends. We miss areas in our behavior, which may be holding us back from being as successful and happy as we want to be.

Related Topics: Cure For The CEO Disease, How To Defeat The Fog of War in Business, One Reason We Struggle With Emotional Intelligence, Is The Fundamental Attribution Error Destroying Your Team?

The author, Spencer Horn is the President of Spencer Horn Solutions, LLC

How To Make A Stronger Impression

One thing you are doing is hurting your efforts to make a strong impression in sales, networking, or job hunting. This one simple change will improve your approach.

Have you ever wanted to make a stronger impression? Either during a job interview, landing a new account, on a first date, making a speech or presentation or networking? If you are like me you want to put your best foot forward in these situations. You want to let a potential employer know why you are the best person for the job. You review all your skills and abilities, which you believe to be a perfect match. You let the potential client know how knowledgeable you are about the product. You believe this will motivate them to buy from you.

For example, This past week, I was working with a leadership group to help them improve alignment and communication. The topic came up of “trust versus competence.” I asked the team, which they thought, was more important in their working relationships. The newest member of the team, (just five days), eager to demonstrate his knowledge and skill to the rest of the team, said “competence” without hesitation. He explained that he “had” to know the people he worked with knew what they were doing. Throughout the meeting he took opportunities to explain his competence. He thought he was proving his worth. Not true.

Also, I was recently at a networking event. Most people I know go to networking events to meet new contacts and gain potential clients. Some people go just to be with friends. Others seem to take the networking challenge seriously. I had two very different interactions with people that evening. At one point, I was sitting with an acquaintance having a serious conversation about the Hubspot marketing approach (Stop interrupting. Start connecting.). During our conversation, the hostess interrupted and asked for our attention. During this time when we were being polite to our host, a man walked up and thrust his cards at us informing us if we should every need a personal injury lawyer he was the one to call. The irony was not lost on us. I kept the card as a reminder to never call.

I was introduced to several other people who immediately began to tell me why I should use their services or expertise. These people only seemed to be interested in what they had to say or sell. They wanted me to respect their competence. You may ask, isn’t that what you are supposed to do at a networking event? Yes and no. Let me explain by sharing another experience at the same networking event. The event was held on the top floor of the Mandalay Bay in the House of Blues Foundation Room, Las Vegas. There was an open deck where you could look out over the city. I was standing by the edge admiring the view when I noticed two ladies gingerly approaching the railing. I let them know I would make sure they would not fall. We started a conversation and learned about each other’s families and professions. We started to involve other people in our conversation, which was fun and full of energy. Only after getting to know them a little did the discussion turn to business. Because of their interest, I offered to give a brief demonstration of what I do for my clients. We exchanged cards and moved on to other conversations. Of all the people I met, these are ones I was most interested in following up with.

I have always believed developing relationships is key to successful outcomes. I believe most people are more comfortable working with someone they trust and someone they know. They prefer someone who has their best interest at heart, rather than someone who is merely competent. Harvard Psychologist, Amy Cuddy, argues that when people meet you, they judge if they can trust and respect you. She says most people believe it is more important to be respected than trusted. That is why they spend so much time convincing others how smart, reliable, effective, capable, eligible, and competent they are.

Of course it is a given you must be competent. If you are not, you will soon be found out and lose the opportunity you hoped for. Amy Cuddy suggests it is more important to be trusted first, based on my experiences, I agree. Once someone trusts you, then you can demonstrate your competence. Then you can make the impression you desire.

Suggestions to build trust and make a stronger impression:

  1. Get to know others:

    Ask questions about their interests, hobbies, family and business. Learn what is important to them. Be courteous and polite. Be present and give them all your attention.

  2. Smile:

    Make good eye contact, be interested, shake hands firmly.

  3. Be relaxed:

    Avoid nervous habits like jangling keys or coins in your pocket, touching your face or hair, fidgeting, etc. Have your hands relaxed at your side when listening. Use some gestures with open hands when talking.

  4. Be a tease:

    When someone asks what you do, be brief. I believe the 30 second elevator speech is too long. Can you explain what you do in 10-15 seconds? Tease them by giving just enough information that you leave them wanting more. Think of this conversation as a first date. Leave more to be discovered. If they are interested, they will ask further questions. Show restraint with your additional answers.

  5. Be indispensable:

    Be willing to offer your services or expertise for free as an audition. Let people know you are willing to help. This builds trust and helps other’s quickly discover your competence. Most reasonable people do not expect free services in perpetuity. The sample should just be enough to encourage a formal business agreement. Be willing to start small before you propose all your goods and services. Remember, build trust, and then you will become indispensable.

  6. Use a wingman:

    Have others introduce you or talk about what you do. Third party endorsements add credibility. Be sure to return the favor.

  7. Be of service:

    Help people anyway you can. I introduce my clients to each other all the time. I have construction clients whose services I don’t personally need. I introduce them to my other clients who do. Interestingly, I only introduce my clients who I trust to my other clients. I feel making the introduction reflects on me. So again, trust comes first.

  8. Be aware:

    Learn how your behavioral traits may be helping or hurting you. For example: A highly extroverted person may have a compulsive need to be heard and speak leaving little time to listen to others. They can also get bored if the conversation is too serious. A high dominant person may want to get to the point too quickly or may be thinking about what they want to say next instead of listening. A highly patient person may be too accommodating of others and miss an opportunity. Their quiet approach may be perceived as weakness by more intense personalities. A high conforming person may look at things pessimistically, bury people with facts, can be closed-minded and have a fear of embarrassment. Awareness of your tendencies will go a long way to help you make a stronger impression.

As a business owner, I am constantly in the market to buy goods and services. I also want to hire the best candidates. I prefer to buy from those people I know and trust. I also prefer to hire people I feel would be a great with our organization. Sure they need to be competent, but if I don’t trust they are a great fit with our current team, it doesn’t matter how smart or competent they are. I would rather have a better cultural fit and train for the skills I need. It is harder to find someone that understands how to build trust than it is to find someone who is ready to tell you all they know.

Related topics: What Is Innattentional Blindness Costing You? How Asking Questions Strengthens Your TeamAct As If…Today, When Being Too Smart Hurts You, 5 Suggestions To Achieve Your Dreams.

The Author, Spencer Horn is the President of Spencer Horn Solutions, LLC

When Being Too Smart Hurts You

Is being too smart getting in your way of being more effective as a leader?

In his article “Leadership that Gets Results” (Harvard Business Review, March-April, 2000), Daniel Goleman reported on studies, which rated emotional intelligence as a predictor of success in business as more significant than intelligence and technical skill. He states, “New research suggests that the most effective executives use a collection of distinct leadership styles—each in the right measure, at just the right time. Such flexibility is tough to put into action, but it pays off in performance. And better yet, it can be learned.”

Do you know someone who was a good employee who was promoted to a supervisor or manager and failed at that position? Think about why they were not successful. Typically it is because they lack the skills required to manage people which are different from the skills required to manage a task. How well do you balance your tasks and the people you manage or report to? Balancing tasks and relationships requires emotional intelligence. Our knowledge and technical skill can only take us so far. It is usually what gets us hired. However, it is our emotional intelligence that gets us promoted or fired.

Most of us understand that emotional intelligence is important. We have heard of it, yet just knowing about emotional intelligence does not make us emotionally intelligent. Talent Smart surveyed 500,000 people around the world about their emotional intelligence in business. Only 36% were able to identify their emotions as they happened. This means, most of us are controlled by emotions and are unaware of how to handle them effectively. Perhaps you have worked with some of them, perhaps you are one of them.

Why do so many have low emotional intelligence? I believe it is because we are conditioned to be right. We judge ourselves by how right we are or how smart we are. We are rewarded for being smart, for having the correct answer. Relying only on intelligence and wanting to be right might work if we all worked alone and never with a team.  As a leader, how do you get things done? You get things done through other people’s efforts. You must be aware of how to accomplish goals by creating engagement and teamwork.

There is nothing wrong with intelligence unless it is getting in your way from being an effective leader. The research suggests, the smarter you are, the less effective you may be in a leadership role when you are unaware of the impact of your emotions. It does not matter how smart we are when our emotions take over. Author Malcom Gladwell argues dedication and practice opposed to raw intelligence are the most crucial determinants of success. If you want to improve as a leader, please read, “Cure For The CEO Disease”  Remember, unlike IQ, EQ can be learned.

Improvement takes constant effort. Success to you!

What Sets You Off?


My Emotional Intelligence Experiment

So what is it that sets you off? Becoming aware of what your triggers are, or what pushes your buttons is a great way to increase your emotional intelligence. We all have something or someone who drives us crazy. One of my triggers is, when someone tells me to “calm down”. It seems that approach usually creates the opposite effect in me. Think of Adam Sandler in the movie “Anger Management”. Other triggers for me are public criticism, my kids leaving their shoes where they take them off, picking on each other or placing blame, borrowing things and not putting them back and over-drafting my checking account.

Most of my life I have avoided looking at my behavior too closely. Why? Because it is not comfortable for me. If something upset me I usually repressed my feelings or “powered through”. Not only is that not healthy, it prevented me from learning how to better manage my emotions and feelings. Knowing who and what sets you off is essential to getting control of your behavior. When you become aware of your triggers, you are more likely to stay in control and respond to challenging situations instead of reacting.

The next step is to understand why these triggers set you off. I have found for example, when I am frustrated with some of my children’s behavior, it is usually for behavior that I see in myself. Ironically, I seem to get most frustrated with my children that are most like me in behavior and temperament.

Another source of frustration for me is, because I understand emotional intelligence, it is all the more frustrating when my emotions get triggered. In other words, when I get mentally hijacked, this hijacks me even more because I know better. Kidding aside, knowing your triggers and their sources is a great place to start to control your behavior and emotion. This will allow you to apply self-management techniques as you learn them.

Keep learning and growing!

Sharpen Emotional Intelligence By Observing Others

My Emotional Intelligence Experiment

One strategy to increase emotional intelligence is to observe behavior in other people. I have found two places that I enjoy watching behaviors in people. One is in films and the other is at airports. Movies and television are a good place for me to identify behaviors that I recognize in myself. It seems that behaviors are often exaggerated for effect. This helps me  identify how people react under pressure. Then I can practice identifying behavior triggers that might affect me. I notice that I get uncomfortable in awkward or tense situations. My wife can always tell if I am getting nervous. If she is holding my hand, I heat up and she has to let go.

Hugh Grant
Hugh Grant

I also get fidgety and if I am watching television at home, I sometimes get up and go to the refrigerator for a drink which always elicits a laugh from her. It seems that the place I usually feel the most uncomfortable is during sitcoms or romantic comedy’s where the guy is making a fool of himself. Hugh Grant always makes me nervous because of his halting and nervous style. His stuttering in awkward moments can have an immediate impact on me. Over the past several weeks, I have made a conscious effort to pay attention to my feelings and reactions in movies and I have become more aware of my feelings and therefore am more able to manage how I react.

Linux-Babies-Angry_01Another place I like to watch people is at the airport. This is a great place to observe people under stress. Two weeks ago just after I had taken my emotional intelligence assessment, I traveled to Houston to conduct training for one of my clients. On my way home to Las Vegas, I was getting ready to board the plane. The customer service representative taking our boarding passes stopped a couple in front of me and told them that their carry-on was too large and would have to be checked. The man became irate and began shouting expletives. He said that he travels all the time with no problem carrying his bag on. He had gone into a full-blown emotional hijack. The representative was adamant that he must leave the bag at the end of the jet-way.  He continued down the jet-way swearing and proceeded to board the plane with his luggage ignoring the direction he had been given. This couple was assigned the seat right behind me. The man was visibly upset. His wife was consoling him and I heard him say, “I have to calm down”. I was pretty disgusted with his behavior. I really wanted to tell him what I thought. Instead I  suggested that he take deep slow breaths, which is one of the best ways to regain control of emotions. Oxygen helps fight the chemicals that flood our system when “fight or flight” kicks in. The more I observe people, the more I become aware of my own feelings increasing my ability to manage my emotions.

The next opportunity I had to observe people at the airport happened last Friday.  I was boarding a plane in Chicago on my way to Jackson, Mississippi. This time I was flying Southwest where you line up by number. I was seat A36 and the person who had A35 was right in front of me. As I stood in line I was profiling the other passenger in line just to practice. Soon, a well dressed woman who I guessed was a high dominant personality got in line next to and slightly in front of me. I noticed her boarding pass said she was A39 which should be behind me. Since I am also high dominant, I wanted to tell her to take a step back to her proper place in line. Instead I decided to hold my boarding pass so that she could see it. I wanted to see what she would do. I decided that no matter how she acted, I would not respond and let it go. She never looked around to see if she was lined up in the proper order. She stood firm in her spot and as we boarded she went right ahead of me. When I told my wife about this, who has a highly flexible and steady personality, she said “that person” used to be me. That was very hard for me to believe. I may have  a dominant personality, yet I thought I have been fairly aware and sensitive. Apparently not then, hopefully I am more aware now.

The last event happened Sunday on my way home from Jackson to Las Vegas. My itinerary said the flight was direct. I soon discovered we would stop in Houston and Los Angeles. I felt this was a bait and switch by the airline. When we arrived in LA, we were told that our flight was terminated and we would be rerouted on another flight three hours later. Apparently, hurricane Irene was to blame. Four people were on the original flight from Jackson. Each of us was anxious to get to Las Vegas sooner. We were told that there was a flight leaving in one hour that was full, however, we could go on standby. We arrived at the gate counter which was vacant. Soon many of the passengers that were waiting for our canceled flight begin to line up behind us. People were tense and I watched the frustration level rise from the front of the line. A gate operator came to the counter to call for help. He said to the people on the other end of the phone he needed help because an angry mob was lined up out the door and he was afraid for his life. The women next to me who had been on the flight from Jackson, said to me that she was offended that he was saying we were an angry mob. She thought we were calm and civil.

I was observing all these behaviors and I was doing a pretty good job staying relaxed and in control. I explained to the woman next to me, I was sure the gate operator only said those things so he would get a more immediate response from his supervisors. In essence, he was doing us a favor. The gate operator returned to the counter as the phone rang and he repeated the dire situation imploring them to send help immediately. When he hung up, he said he did that to get their attention. The woman looked at me and smiled. As it turned out, all five of us were able to get on the earlier flight and things worked out great given the circumstances.

If you have had similar experiences becoming more aware of your behavior or the behavior of others, please share them with me. If you have had experiences with me where I have been unaware of how I impacted you, I would like to hear about it, I think.

My Emotional Intelligence Experiment

Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

In my job, I help organizations and individuals everyday to develop behaviors that will create optimum results. In my conversations with clients, the topic of emotional intelligence (EQ) comes up a great deal. Over the last decade, emotional intelligence has proven to be a commodity that leaders are looking to increase in themselves and their people. A highly simplified definition of emotional intelligence is the ability to function effectively under stress or in difficult situations. It is also an understanding or awareness of how our behaviors impact the people around us. Data shows that 90% of top performers have high EQ.

As a teacher and consultant, I have a desire and an obligation to constantly work on my behaviors. With that in mind, I decided I would take a closer look at my EQ and track my progress as I work to increase my EQ. Since I am in a profession that teaches EQ I figured this would be fairly easy. I should have known that looking closely at one’s own behavior objectively is never easy.

One of the first things I did was buy the book “Emotional Intelligence 2.0” by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves. In the book there is an access code to take an online assessment. I took the assessment while I was in West Yellowstone on August 5th while I was at a family reunion. I figured that a family reunion was a great place to practice emotional intelligence skills like patience. The assessment is not very long and is only accurate if you are brutally honest with yourself. Knowing that my self-assessment objectivity might be lacking, I turned to my wife for brutal honesty. Sure enough, she more than compensated for my rose colored view of myself.

The assessment gives you a score based on your answers from 0-100. The scale is as follows: 90-100 Means EQ is a strength to capitalize on; 80-89 Is a strength to build on, 70-79 With a little improvement, this could become a strength; 60-69 Something you should work on; 59 and Below A concern you must address. The score assesses four areas which I will discuss later. My average score was 69. I was somewhat surprised by the low number. Needless to say, my response was less than emotionally intelligence.

Kidding aside, I feel that the score reflected my EQ levels of the not to distant past. I found it interesting that my wife encouraged me to score myself based on how I perceive I used to be. So once I recognized that, I rationalized (through rose colored glasses) that I probably was higher than a 69…more like a 70. Anyway, the cool thing about the assessment is that it gives you strategies that are customized for you to help you bring your EQ score up.

It is good to have someone who can give you objective and honest feedback. Be honest with yourself and receive feedback and you will make great progress in becoming more emotionally intelligent. This has been a tremenus help to me over the years as I have worked to raise my EQ and it will work for you too.